How to Keep Peace in Your Family
by Victor M. Parachin
A parent's response to tense situations dramatically affects their child’s response.
Confiding to a trusted friend, a father expresses concern over his 9-year-old son. “He’s a ‘forgetter.’ He can’t seem to remember anything I tell him. Assign him a chore, and he ‘forgets’ to do it. Give him a message for someone; it never gets there. If I ask him to do two things, maybe one will get done. His ‘forgetfulness’ is causing a lot of conflict in our family.”
Speaking to a teacher, a mother and father share their frustration that their sixth-grade daughter has a problem taking responsibility for her homework. “As a result, we’re constantly badgering her to make sure she keeps up with her assignments. On school nights the tension level is very high in our household.”
Fathers and mothers can quickly identify with these two scenes. While neither parents nor their children enjoy tension and conflict, situations often arise that elevate frustration and heighten anxiety within a family. Most parents are aware that how they respond to such issues dramatically affects their child’s response. Use certain words and sentences and the child will comply. Express other statements and emotions and the child will resist and even rebel. Conflict management is a vital skill for promoting family health and unity. When it’s done properly, family life flows more smoothly and a child’s self-esteem, motivation, and maturity are positively influenced. Here are simple but effective ways to minimize the conflicts and maximize the love.
Accept the fact that all families experience conflict.
A family is not abnormal or dysfunctional just because conflicts emerge from time to time. Even Scripture refers to the reality of family strife. “It is harder to win back the friendship of an offended brother than to capture a fortified city. His anger shuts you out like iron bars” (Proverbs 18:19, TLB).*
Within every family there are differences of opinion, approach, style, and expression. Often children test limits and assert their independence by acting in ways parents find disagreeable or unacceptable. Such acting out is normal and should be viewed as simply one aspect of a child’s maturing and learning process.
An expectation that there will be no conflict within a family is unrealistic and naive. That view will only result in disappointment. Mothers and fathers of school-age children can take consolation in the fact that even parents who have strong and loving rapport with their adult children experience conflict from time to time.
One example is that of the mother-daughter singing team of Naomi and Wynonna Judd. While their relationship is warm and strong, there are moments when harmony is absent. Naomi Judd explains: “Before a show in Denver, Wynonna and I were fighting because she had forgotten her outfit. We were mere minutes from showtime, and I opened fire with both guns. ‘You stupid kid,’ I screamed. ‘Aren’t you ever going to grow up and get your act together? ’” Immediately the daughter declared she would not sing with her mother that night. As the two shrieked at each other, their manager stepped in, saying: “Ladies, there are several thousand people out there who’ve paid money to hear you tonight. You must decide whether you’re going to rise to professionalism or be a disappointment to everyone, including me.” His comments evoked a mature response from both women. They quickly resolved the conflict, made amends, and went on to sing. The point: even the closest of families experience conflict from time to time.
Avoid never, ever, and always.
All too often children hear these types of demeaning generalizations:
“You never consider how I feel.”
“You’re always late.”
“When will you ever accept responsibility?”
Such expressions are shaming, insulting remarks that hurt a child and do not produce the desired results. “ These words can become self-fulfilling prophecies,” notes Nancy Samalin, founder and director of Parent Guidance Workshops in New York. “They hurt a child’s self-esteem and discourage him from trying to change. What they really say to the child is ‘You’re a disappointment . . . you’re hopeless.’ ” Samalin says a much more constructive approach is to be concrete, describing expectations clearly and specifically. She offers these examples: “Instead of ‘You never do anything I ask,’ try ‘It’s your job to take out the garbage, and that needs to be done this afternoon.’ Instead of ‘You never pick up after yourself,’ try ‘I expect the blocks to be put in the toy box.’ ”
Separate the behavior from the person.
It is the unacceptable behavior a parent must object to and not the person. Saying “I’m upset that you came home an hour past curfew because I was very worried something might have happened to you” is more appropriate than angrily declaring “Late again! I’m not surprised, because you are so irresponsible and immature. You’ll never amount to anything!” The first response is a simple statement of fact that faults the behavior, while the second response erodes self-esteem by demeaning the child. “In a healthy family, the child is always loved even if the child’s behavior is unacceptable,” notes family counselor, Janet G. Woititz, Ed.D., in her book Healthy Parenting. “In an unhealthy family the child is shamed and the person is confused with the behavior.” Woititz says that separating the behavior from the person is a powerful way to express unconditional love. She explains that unconditional love conveys this feeling: “I love you with no strings attached, regardless of how you behave. This doesn’t mean I always accept your behavior, but it does mean I always accept you as a person.”
Have rules that are age-appropriate, and be flexible about rulemaking.
That may be a part of what Paul had in mind when he advised parents: “Do not exasperate your children” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV).† The fact is many family conflicts could be erased and eliminated if parents would be certain that the rules are age-appropriate. For example, very young children need to have a specific bedtime that is consistently enforced, while older children can have a later one with some flexibility. Or consider the example of Sue and Steve, parents of three children aged 14, 12, and 10. After they had a new sofa delivered for their family room, Steve asked Sue, “Should we have a rule about eating in the family room?” After thinking for a moment, she responded, “No, I don’t think we need to have a rule anymore. The children are now at an age where they don’t spill things and mess up furniture anymore.” Sue and Steve exhibited healthy parenting by establishing age-appropriate rules and also being flexible about them.
Brainstorm together for solutions.
Involving children in seeking solutions to sources of conflict develops maturity in the child as well as demonstrating that their opinion is respected. Brainstorming with children is a technique recommended by therapists Betty Lou Bettner, Ph.D., and Amy Lew, Ph.D. In their book Raising Kids Who Can, they further advise: “To avoid a win/lose atmosphere of my idea versus your idea, come up with at least three alternatives. When choices are limited to two, polarities are seen—right/wrong, good/bad, smart/dumb. When a third choice is seen, other options become clearer … Be sure to develop fail-safes for what will happen if the agreement is broken or someone doesn’t follow through (not a punishment, just an action that everyone agrees is respectful to all).”
Give positive feedback.
While children need to be informed about what is unacceptable or inappropriate behavior, they also need to be given credit for the good conduct they exhibit. “I praise loudly; I blame softly” was the parenting philosophy adopted by Catherine II of Russia. Giving positive feedback not only lets a child know that the parent notices and appreciates good behavior, but is a way of balancing criticisms offered on other occasions. The best type of positive feedback is specific. For example:
”I was proud of the way you comforted your little brother when he fell down and hurt himself.”
“I like the fact that you don’t fall apart when you make a mistake. We all learn from our mistakes. You don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. That’s terrific!”
“I appreciate very much the fact that you always come home on time. You are so responsible about your commitment that I don’t worry about your being late or violating the curfew.”
Although some conflict is inevitable in any family, responding with fairness and creativity will result in a family unit in which there will be a tremendous amount of love, inspiration, and enjoyment.
*Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.
†Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. More: Help a friend...
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Victor M. Parachin is a writer living in Claremont, California.
I am switching from Head Start to second grade this next year. I moved all the stuff from my Head Start room to my second grade room the other day. I started moving furniture around and stuff and realized... I don't know what to do with my room. I mean, I have my desk where I want it, computers, and once cabinet, but what else? I don't know what kind of centers to use in second grade, and where tables and bookshelves will go for that... any insights?
It’s summertime, school is out, and many families are at their wit’s end about how to fill three months of their children’s free time. Images of summertime are usually cast in a light of hot, lazy, relaxing days by a lake, but the reality for most working families is the struggle to balance the demands of adult work schedules with providing safe activities for children. This dilemma often results in hectic, stress-filled days comparable to those during the school year. While summer camp is an option for some, the cost of day and overnight camps can be too expensive for many families’ budgets. Structured activities are beneficial, but parents and caregivers should also keep in mind the advantages of unstructured time for children.
So what do we do to keep young children busy, yet also allow them to enjoy the summer months? Whether your child is a preschooler or school-age, a wealth of opportunities for fun, educational, and even relaxing activities are possible. Here are some tips that may be useful for families and caregivers:
Visit the library
Until recently, libraries offered little or nothing for children below the age of three, but in the past few years, many have introduced programs for toddlers. Children and adults can participate in activities that may include reading aloud, storytelling, fingerplays, rhymes, and songs. Preschoolers usually enjoy the group activities offered by libraries, where they can participate in puppet shows and arts and crafts activities. For elementary school children, there are variations of the read-alouds and storytelling hours that often include discussions and presentations by the children themselves, as well as summer reading programs. Many public libraries also offer training courses for children in using different software or educational programs.
What makes a place special? What are the physical characteristics of your hometown? Take children for a walk around your neighborhood and look at what makes it unique. Point out how it is similar to other places you have been and how it is different. If you live near a park, a lake, a river, a stream or a creek, take your children there and spend time talking about its uses. Read stories about distant places with children or sing songs to teach geography, for example "Home on the Range" or "California, Here I Come." Make a wish list of places you would like to visit with your child. Look them up on a map and plan a trip there--real or pretend.
View and create collections
Go to a children’s museum to view hands-on exhibits or suggest that your children start a "collection" and build their own museum. They can collect natural materials, such as acorns and leaves from a local park or sea shells from the beach.
Older children can learn about weather by using a map to look up the temperature of cities around the world and discovering how hot each gets in the summer. Watch cloud formations and imagine. Do the shapes look like horses, ducks or other animals?
At night, children can collect fireflies in jars, or depending on their age, camp out in a tent in the back yard. Create a treasure map for children to find hidden treats in the yard. Read about your state bird and state flower, and if possible, bicycle ride to a nearby park to find them.
Use community resources
Watch for special events, such as free outdoor music festivals or concerts. Many communities host evening concerts in local parks--pack a picnic dinner and enjoy time with your family. People are resources too--collectors, painters, and backyard naturalists may live in your neighborhood, eager to share their knowledge with children.
Rainy day activities
Summertime often brings thunder clouds. On days when outdoor activities are not possible, you can share family history and photos with your children. Pull out the old videotapes of past family gatherings and events. Prepare an indoor picnic with your child or cook dinner together.
Whatever the activity, children can enjoy and appreciate the summer months in ways that are both educational and stress-reducing for all involved.
I just joined and am looking to meet some new friends.
I live in MI.
I am 35 yrs young.
I am a Stay at home mom
I have three kids, 12, 4 and 7 mos.
Comment and ill add ya.
I hope to hear from some moms~
I am a young male high school teacher, and I am just starting my third year teaching. However, I am struggling with how I should deal with a particular situation. I teach an elective with 7 students, all girls. I have had these students for over two years now, and know them very well.Anyways, there is one girl who has always seemed healthy and happy, and of a normal weight. However, as the weeks have passed I have seen her waste away to the point that she is now skin and bones. She just isn't the same person, and I am pretty sure she has an eating disorder. I don't know how to address this, if I should at all. I am male, and am not sure if it would be best for me to approach her about it, as I think it might be better coming from a woman. However, I know her pretty well and I am very concerned and want to help. Do you think I should talk to her myself, or tell the school psychologist, or maybe a female teacher? Or should I call home? Thanks for the help.
Great reasons for getting the kids involved in housework
Although most of us dream about getting some help around the house — a full-time maid or maybe even an entire cleaning staff — curiously, some of us wouldn’t dream of getting our children to help out. With today’s busy lifestyles, it may be faster to do the job yourself, or involve less hassle. However, according to Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ballentine Books, 2003), getting your children to be mother’s little helpers actually helps them as much as it helps you.
"Doing chores and assuming other responsibilities are an important part of growing up that we parents should not let slide," says Hallowell. And, studies prove it. "Children who do chores around the house and then, when they are old enough, get a paid job outside the home for a few hours a week tend to develop the can-do, want-to-do feeling," he adds.
"Believe it or not, one of the most concrete, practical ways a parent can help a child feel industrious rather than inferior is to insist that the child do chores," he finds. "If you do not do this, the child is at risk of developing one of the worst afflictions a parent can create: a sense of entitlement."
Here are a few of his suggestions for making it work:
Explain to your kids the reason everyone should do work around the house, namely, that it is important for everyone to contribute to the family, because maintaining a family requires a lot of work.
Try to involve the kids in a discussion of who ought to do which chore. It’s always easier to enforce an agreement than an edict.
Pick chores that are reasonable and tailored to what the child can do. For example, he says, "Tucker, our youngest, can’t quite handle setting the table, but he can clear his own plate, so he does that, and he can feed the dogs, so he does that, too."
If you decide to give an allowance, don’t consider the allowance a reward for doing the chores. Parents should expect their children to make a contribution to the work of the family.
In the end, Hallowell reminds us: "You may think it is hokey to use words like responsibility and contribution, but they are important words for children to hear, especially in the context of doing chores and work. They may roll their eyes at you when you say those words, but they will remember them, and their work will feel more meaningful if they can connect it to words like responsibility and contribution. So take a chance. Be hokey."
We stress about getting kids. Then when we do, we have to learn the
importance of Letting Go.
In her book Loving and Letting Go, Carol Kuykendall gives these basic
guidelines for letting go - which is a life-long challenge for parents:
. Letting go is one of the most critical responsibilities of parenting that
meets a child's greatest need: to grow toward healthy independence.
. Letting go is a lifelong process that starts the moment the umbilical cord
is cut at birth and continues in little steps and starts, moment by moment,
as a child grows up.
. Letting go demands a gradual change in the way we express our love for our
children, from total control in infancy to no control in maturity. The goal
is to take care of them until they can take care of themselves.
. Letting go is a process marked by the balanced orderly granting of
appropriate freedom and responsibility, year by year, as the child grows up.
. Letting go means we encourage and reward (not thwart) appropriate steps of
independence. Their success is our success.
. Letting go recognizes that we raise our children to leave us. Throughout
this process, we (1) equip our children for life beyond our homes and (2)
prepare ourselves for life when they are no longer in our homes. Our goal is
to work ourselves out of the parenting job and reach an adult-to-adult
relationship with our children.
Now that school is out for the summer.
What do you have planned or have already been doing to keep your school age child occupied?